The 1934-D Peace Dollar
Posted by David W. Lange, NGC Research Director on 8/1/2005
Certain issues within a particular coin series simply stand out as having features of particular interest. For the Peace silver dollar series of 1921-35, the Denver Mint coin of 1934 is just such an issue.
On the surface of things, there is nothing remarkable about this coin. Over 1.5 million examples were coined of the 1934-D dollar, more than at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints that year. All of the silver dollars dated 1934 and 1935 were struck under a separate appropriation bill from those dated 1921-28, as the silver purchased under the Pittman Act of 1918 was exhausted early in 1928. It was believed at the time that no more silver dollars would ever be coined, but the onset of the Great Depression and the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president initiated a series of federal programs to boost the economy and provide employment. One of these programs led indirectly to the resumption of silver dollar coinage.
The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was passed to relieve beleaguered farmers who were suffering from the double blow of drought and low produce prices. Tacked onto this bill at the urging of legislators from the western states was the Thomas Amendment, which permitted the payment of war debts with silver at the price of 50 cents per ounce. This was seen as a way of propping up the sagging price of silver, which fell as low as 25 cents per ounce during 1933. The silver, thus acquired, was to be coined into either subsidiary pieces (dimes, quarters and halves) or silver dollars, at the discretion of the Treasury.
As the mintage figures for 1933 reveal, there was no need for additional silver coins, with the exception of a modest run of half dollars struck at the San Francisco Mint. Seeing that nothing was happening, on December 21 President Roosevelt ordered that the silver acquired under this legislation be coined into silver dollars. Before any pieces were actually struck, an even bolder measure was passed. The Silver Purchase Act of June 18, 1934 mandated that the Treasury buy all silver offered until the market price rose to $1.29 which was considered the "real" value of silver in better times. Should this price not be achieved, the Treasury would have to continue buying silver until it had acquired an amount equal in value to one-third of its gold holdings. This subsidy to the silver mining industry effectively nationalized silver, just as gold had been nationalized the year before, though few Americans took notice of it at the time.
In 1934 silver dollars were coined at all three active mints, while those dated 1935 were produced only at Philadelphia and San Francisco. This left the 1934-D issue as the last Denver Mint silver dollars until several hundred thousand pieces dated 1964-D were coined in May of 1965. As these were never issued, and none are believed to survive, the 1934-D dollars retained their status as the last Denver Mint silver dollars. Most of these were bagged and stored--silver dollars not being a coin used in everyday circulation in most of the nation. In the western states silver dollars remained popular and were exchanged routinely, particularly in the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada. They were a little less common in urban areas, but the receipt of silver dollars in change, while a bit irritating to some city dwellers was not an unusual occurrence.
Enough 1934-D dollars entered circulation at or near the time of their coining that examples grading Fine through About Uncirculated are commonly seen. This issue is not believed to have surfaced in mint-sealed bags of 1,000 pieces, so the Uncirculated pieces known today entered the coin market in rolls or as individual coins. While overshadowed by the far scarcer 1934-S dollars, those struck at Denver remain elusive in the higher grades. Most uncirculated pieces are reasonably well struck and lustrous but reveal many contact marks from years of being moved about while in storage.
1934 was a transitional year for all Denver Mint coins, with the exception of the cent. A new, larger "D" mintmark puncheon debuted on the cents of 1933 and was used exclusively thereafter for many years, but old dies for the other denominations remained on hand at the beginning of 1934. Thus, the nickels, dimes, quarters and halves dated 1934-D are known with either Small D (old dies) or Large D mintmarks. Their relative rarity varies from one denomination to another, but silver dollars having the Small D mintmark are noticeably scarcer than those having the Large D reverse.
In the case of coins struck from otherwise normal dies the scarcity of Small D coins is not such that these coins carry a premium. But the dollars dated 1934-D are also known from an obverse die that is very prominently doubled. This doubling is most obvious within the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, but it may be seen also in the rays emanating from Liberty's tiara. This doubled obverse die was paired with both Small D and Large D reverse dies, and here is where things get interesting. The 1934-D dollar with the doubled obverse and the Small D is many times rarer than its Large D counterpart. In fact, the ratio recorded in NGC's Census Report is nearly six-to-one!